Pennum Coccinae (Red Wings); 32 weighted Mordovian (a.k.a. ‘Latvian’) chess pieces without board, wood, red vs. black, Soviet, artistically reimagined, c.1950-1955
Height: King 9.7cm, weight 18g, base diameter 3.8cm; Queen 8cm, wt 18g, Bishop 7cm 12g, Knight 6cm 14g, Rook 5cm 20g, Pawns 4.2cm 5g
White: Lush ‘Stalin Red’ felt bases, B: same (subtle ageing available on request).
This famous Soviet design was once said to be “a favourite” of the legendary ‘magician from Riga’ – Mikhail Tal – which is why the set is sometimes confusingly called the ‘Latvian’ set. I make use of the term ‘famous’ because in 2021 a similar version of this timeless Cold War classic was used in the hit mini-series, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT, although this particular design is from a few decades earlier than the 1980s version used by Beth Harmon in the nail-biting finale of episode seven.
The ‘elbow’ or ‘S’ shape of the curvaceous Moldovian knights have a stark simplicity about them and the oversized muzzle is a distinct trademark of this particular Mordovian pattern. The bishops, too, have an equally simple ‘tear-drop’ shaped dome that can only be inspired by Moscow’s Saint Basil’s Cathedral, erected during the reign of Ivan the Terrible during the 16th century with “…its towering domes shaped like the flames of a bonfire rising into the sky” (A. Ivanov, The Tsars p.100) – a description that served as the inspiration for the ‘fiery’ colour of the light pieces.
Fire on Board! As they say…
The red ‘wings’ (as I call them) of the Mordovian knights is an idea that has been floating around in the grey matter for some time. The red, or cochineal colour is the raw base powder pigment that I use to achieve the vibrant, fiery undertones of the pieces. The wings weren’t planned. I just began to subtly darken the mane on each pass and it seemed to give the set a natural and unique identity that after time you actually forget is there. The perfect sign of a perfect match. The finials of the royals have been purposefully kept to suit. it is not something I usually do, but in this case, it just felt right.
Weight has been added to give the set a heftier feel over the board. The royals and rooks have been given a little extra oomph – as that is the way we roll here at the Chess Schach. They don’t feel light or overly heavy for their size – refer to the term ‘perfect’ above.
The 1950s Valdai board pictured is not for sale, but I would suggest a playing field of the same size with 5cm squares.
Both kings carry the hand-painted, iridescent copper ‘Power’ signature of the artist on their bases. The Red Wings are also accompanied by our hand-drawn ‘Certificate of Artistry’ which will be posted out separately once we tally up how many ‘Copper Signature’ sets pass through our galleries in 2022 “… all good things …” as the old saying goes.
For more info on the certificate see our January 2022 Chessay.
Ref Code: PC22